A key part of making any wedding a successful celebration is the seating chart. If you’re not careful, dinner can quickly derail the buzzy momentum built up by guests mingling during cocktail hour, so you’ll want to be strategic about how you arrange where they sit for the meal. Here, expert wedding planner Amy Jones of Center City-based Amy Champagne Events shares her secrets behind how to set up your reception to keep conversation flowing.
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First things first: Avoid centerpieces that are impossible to talk around. “Couples won’t sit at a guest table, so they don’t always think to test it,” says Jones. “If conversation feels comfortable, it’s good to go.” This is easiest to achieve by going low (think close-to-the-table asymmetrical designs) or high (arrangements elevated by skinny posts you can speak through).
Though table sizes and shapes will vary according to guest count and room dimensions, Jones says that seating eight guests at a 60-inch round table is an ideal ratio. (Sixty-six inches can also work, but avoid 72-inch tables at all costs — “They swallow centerpieces, and there’s so much space.”) Need to add one or two more guests into the mix? Forgo chargers entirely, or replace them with a large dinner plate — you’ll save a few inches at every setting.
When it comes to the space overall, lowering the lights will further encourage mingling. “When the lights are dim, people are more relaxed,” says Jones. “Real candlelight, if you can do it instead of LEDs, is a game-changer.” Double-sided escort cards are another helpful trick — they help guests find their seats and prevent awkward “Tell me your name again?” moments later on.
It’s the center of the action, so it typically goes in the center of the room. Friends and younger guests will find their way there no matter what, so it’s okay to seat them further out. Older folks go closer in: “That way, if they want to sit, they aren’t in the middle of nowhere,” says Jones.
Also be aware of guests who don’t know many others at the celebration. While it can be tempting to stick them in the outskirts, that will only exacerbate their feelings of being left out. Place them in the heart of the crowd so they can start rubbing elbows.
It’s inevitable: Smaller groups of guests who don’t know each other will wind up seated together. And while it might seem logical to combine these groups according to similar careers and hobbies, talk on these topics can peter out quickly. “Group by personality instead,” suggests Jones. Big personalities will feed off each other, while more reserved guests will appreciate their tablemates’ shared restraint.
Another idea that seems promising but often falls flat is the singles table. Only in rom-com movies does seating a bunch of romantically unattached guests together result in another wedding — best to make sure anybody attending solo knows at least one other person at the table.
Dealing with parents who both love you dearly but can’t stand to be in the same room? Surround them with family at equal distance away from you on opposite sides of the room. That way, no one can accuse you of playing favorites.
Or maybe exes from the same friend group just went through a tough breakup. Jones suggests splitting the group into separate tables but keeping them close by, or arranging the group along a single rectangular table and seating one ex at each end. If both parties feel like they have allies, they’ll be less likely to cause a scene.
There is one pairing, though, that you should never separate: members of the wedding party and their plus-ones. While you may not know the best man’s new girlfriend super-well, if he’s sitting at your head table, then she is, too.
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